The L.A. Times had an article yesterday about how Warner Bros. is still planning Green Lantern 2, but that they intend to make it "edgier and darker" than the original.
This, of course, is the big lesson WB took from the billion dollar worldwide take of The Dark Knight: dark and edgy = better. If that song sounds familiar, it's because that's what they said a couple years ago when announcing their intentions for the next Superman movie. I'm also pretty sure this isn't the first time, they've said all their superhero films will be "dark and edgy."
It's ridiculous that is their only judgement on why Green Lantern underperformed. I don't think the problem was that it wasn't dark enough, it's that there wasn't enough sense of fun and adventure. Oh, and the second act had problems.
Why did people like Iron Man? Because it was fun and because Robert Downey Jr. was charming and charismatic. The Spider-Man movies are among the top grossing films of all time and they were plenty of fun too. "Dark" works for Batman because that's the world he inhabits. But it's not Superman's world, it's not Spider-Man's world, and it's not Green Lantern's world. At least not in the degrees that Batman's is.
If you apply this sort of "one size fits all" assessment to every underperforming comic book film then you fail to examine each one as a unique property and a unique story. "Comic Book Movie" isn't a genre in the sense that "Horror" and "Comedy" are genres. If you equate Green Lantern to The Dark Knight, you might as well try to find a common element in the failures of The Godfather part III and the Star Wars prequels.
As I joked on Twitter, WB could make a Holocaust film about Hitler raping dead gerbils and when it failed at the box office, they'd think the problem was it wasn't edgy enough.
The comics have gone dark - sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The DC miniseries Identity Crisis was effectively dark and edgy when dealing in the moral greys that the Justice League was revealed to trade in, to say nothing of the shockingly brutal murder of Robin's father. It was less successful when the story's twists included a completely unnecessary violation of a beloved female character.
The Star Trek franchise succeeded when went darker with Deep Space Nine and used that to explore greater moral complexity during wartime. It was less effective in the final Next Generation film Nemesis, which featured the completely unaffecting death of one character and the mental rape of another. (Hmmm... I see a disturbing pattern developing.)
Dark is overrated. Sure, everyone remembers The Empire Strikes Back as their favorite Star Wars film, but they conveniently forget that when they were seven years old, that shit on Dagobah was boring as hell. It might be fun to rip on Return of the Jedi and the annoyingly cute Ewoks, but to the average 10 year-old who saw those movies as they came out, Jedi was probably the more exciting and "better" of the two.
Imagine if the same studio execs working on Green Lantern today had been put in charge of Return of the Jedi, and that Empire Strikes Back had been hailed as the superior Star Wars film as much as it is today. The Ewoks would either have been replaced with more ferocious, brutally violent beings, or we'd have seen the Empire's troops plow through the Ewok forces with all the intensity of the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan. Jabba the Hutt would have raped Princess Leia, Han never would have survived the unfreezing, or would have done so with a horrible disfigurement, and Luke probably would have killed his father, only to end up in the Vader suit himself by the end of it.
Okay, maybe that wouldn't have happened. But must we always go "dark?" Don't we need some tonal balance in our superhero films?